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Acute care patients discuss the patient role in patient safety

Rathert, Cheryl; Huddleston, Nicole; Pak, Youngju

doi: 10.1097/HMR.0b013e318208cd31

Background: Patient safety has been a highly researched topic in health care since the year 2000. One strategy for improving patient safety has been to encourage patients to take an active role in their safety during their health care experiences. However, little research has shed light on how patients view their roles.

Purpose: This study attempted to address this deficit by inductively exploring the results of a qualitative study in which patients reported their ideas about what they believe their roles should be.

Methodology: Patients with an overnight stay in the previous 90 days at one of three hospitals were surveyed using a mailing methodology. Of 1,040 respondents, 491 provided an open-ended response regarding what they believe the patient role should be.

Findings: Qualitative analysis found several prominent themes. The largest proportion of responses (23%) suggested that patients should follow instructions given by care providers. Other prominent themes were that patients should ask questions and become informed about their conditions and treatments, and many implied that they should expect competent care. Our results suggest that patients believe they should be able to trust that they are being provided competent care, as opposed to assuming a leadership role in their safety.

Practice Implications: Our results suggest that engaging patients in safety efforts may be complex, requiring a variety of strategies. Managers must provide environments conducive to staff and patient interactions to support patients in this effort. Different types of patients may require different engagement strategies.

Cheryl Rathert, PhD, is Assistant Professor, Health Services Management, Department of Health Management and Informatics, and Senior Scholar, Center for Health Ethics, School of Medicine, University of Missouri-Columbia. E-mail:

Nicole Huddleston, MHA, is Director, Client Services, Medical Consulting Group, Fayetteville, Arizona. E-mail:

Youngju Pak, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Biostatistics, Department of Health Management and Informatics, School of Medicine, University of Missouri-Columbia. E-mail:

An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, Health Care Management Division, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

The project was funded by National Research Corporation.

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.